Some people said it was too early to say whether climate change was real, or whether we caused it. Now some people are saying it’s too late for us to do anything. A lot of them, interestingly, are the same people.
Some will say it’s too early after the cyclone to think long term. We must focus on getting back to normal. Back to business as usual. It was the same after the lockdowns. The same after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. It seems when it comes to changing our systems it’s always too early, and then too late. It’s never now.
But it’s too late for normal now.
Normal is being swept away, and it is not coming back.
The loss of normal is a terrible thing. It’s especially terrifying when normal makes our families safe and secure, our lives pleasant, affluent and fulfilling. It’s normal to respond by retreating into our fenced off comfort zones, grasping for what remains. But we must resist that urge.
Because normal is what is driving the climate crisis that drove the cyclone. And not only that. Normal has meant an average 69% decrease in animal life on this planet since 1970. Normal has meant toxic pollution has reached every corner of the world. Normal means 650 million people living in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the richest 1%, including many of us, hoard almost two thirds of the world’s wealth.
In Aotearoa New Zealand normal means most of our rivers are too toxic to swim in. It means we have the highest proportion of threatened indigenous species on Earth.
These too will bring their disruptions. And each time some people will try to claim they’re normal.
But they’re not. Nor are the times we are living in.
There will be talk about resilience and adaptation. That’s good. We need more of both. But we must be vigilant that these don’t become ciphers for muddling on into the next crisis. The vital question is whether we continue on the unsustainable course we are on. If we do, making this process ‘resilient’ locks the doors and accelerates us at the crumbling cliff. And far too many Kiwis now know what it's like trying to adapt to a catastrophe that's already happening.
There’s no adapting to a toxic world without animals. People beyond our islands shouldn’t be forced to ‘adapt’ to starving to death so we can stay rich. And it will soon be extremely obvious that we can't adapt to a climate with more CO2 in it than any time in the last 400,000 years.
We have to address these issues, not adapt to them. That’s the point.
So NOW what?
As the artist Banksy re-popularised: “From this moment despair ends and tactics begin.” It’s about us all doing what we can do now for the long term, to prevent escalating disasters. We have to tackle climate change head on. That means a radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions right across our economy.
We have the Climate Change Commission. The least we can do is take its advice. We must go further. We must make genuine reductions right here, right now. That is what will improve our own efficiency, resilience and community harmony. We can’t do that by paying other people for carbon credits.
Like any genuine response to an emergency, we all need to do our bit. Every business should measure their greenhouse gas emissions. They must take the first simple steps to reduce them. The Sustainable Business Network has created the Climate Action Toolbox together with partners. It’s free, and it doesn’t take long.
We can’t go on as we are. We need to shift to a low carbon economy where we don’t abandon resources to become waste and pollution. We can’t continue to dump carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, nitrogen in our lakes, or logging slash into people's front rooms. Sounds far-fetched? Well, it’s largely already been designed. It’s called the circular economy. Again, we can all do our bit right now, today. For a start we can move away from buying cheap unsustainable, wasteful rubbish for the work we do. Again, there's a free tool for that, the Circular Economy Directory.
Most importantly, we must reinstate the natural systems that protect our landscapes from this kind of collapse. Everyone knows about schemes to replant areas of native bush. The next step is for this to become a nationwide movement that rejuvenates rural and urban communities and economies at the same time. That too, is already underway in projects up and down the country. They need every business to get in behind them, just as much as we will get in behind those that have been harmed in this current emergency.
It’s not about either/or, it’s about and/also, and right now.